Selina Den­man visits Louis Vuit­ton’s shoe­mak­ing fa­cil­ity and gets a be­hind-the-scenes look at how the brand’s Head­line pumps are made

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On a grassy ex­panse in the cen­tre of Louis Vuit­ton’s man­u­fac­ture de souliers, an enor­mous sculp­ture in the shape of a high-heeled shoe shim­mers in the sun­light. Priscilla, as this peep-toe pump is af­fec­tion­ately known, is a cre­ation by Por­tuguese artist Joana Vas­con­ce­los and is made from hun­dreds of stain­less steel pans. Stand­ing 4.7 me­tres tall, it is a first sign that in this modern con­crete struc­ture where the French fash­ion house crafts its cov­etable footwear, shoes are more akin to art than ac­ces­sories.

This mes­sage is re­it­er­ated in the fa­cil­ity’s ded­i­cated gallery, a 260-square-me­tre space where his­toric footwear from In­dia, China and La­p­land sits across from art­works by Andy Warhol, Ralph Gib­son, Yayoi Kusama and Richard Prince. And then again in the work­shops across the way, where ar­ti­sans use their hands (and skills passed on over gen­er­a­tions) to meld leather into run­way-wor­thy footwear.

We are on the banks of the Brenta river, 30 kilo­me­tres from Venice, in Fiesso d’Ar­tico, where, since the 13th cen­tury, tan­ners and calegheri (cord­wain­ers) have come to ply their trade. There are now more than a hun­dred shoe­mak­ing fa­cil­i­ties in this tiny Ital­ian town.

Louis Vuit­ton’s cut­ting-edge 14,000-square-me­tre fa­cil­ity was opened in 2009 and boasts geo­ther­mal tem­per­a­ture and air qual­ity con­trol, as well as the ca­pac­ity to re­cy­cle rain­wa­ter – so that age-old tech­niques are car­ried out in the most modern of en­vi­ron­ments. The space is di­vided into ded­i­cated sec­tions: Speedy is the work­shop for sneak­ers; No­made is where driv­ing shoes are cre­ated; Alma is the source of “ele­gant women’s shoes”; and Taiga is where for­mal footwear for men is made.

Tra­di­tional con­struc­tion tech­niques that are reg­u­larly ex­e­cuted within these walls in­clude the Goodyear welt, and the Blake and Nor­we­gian hand­stitch. Moc­casins are cre­ated en­tirely by hand, and the brand claims that it is pos­si­ble to iden­tify the “au­thor” of a shoe by the way it has been stitched.

An­other trade­mark of the Vuit­ton man­u­fac­ture is the patina cre­ated on all leather de­signs. Armed sim­ply with wax pol­ish, water, a brush and fab­ric, ex­perts work on each shoe for sev­eral hours. From an ini­tial sketch to fi­nal com­ple­tion, each pair of shoes goes through around 200 sep­a­rate steps, whether it’s the ap­pli­ca­tion of a heel by hand, or a colour touch-up on the seam of a bal­let slip­per.

In one sec­tion of the man­u­fac­ture, a crafts­man shows us the ini­tial sketch for Louis Vuit­ton’s now fa­mous Arch­light sneak­ers, which, with their tech­ni­cal fab­rics, over­sized rub­ber sole and prom­i­nent tongue, look like the hy­brid of a vin­tage 1990s bas­ket­ball shoe and some­thing out of a fu­tur­is­tic sci-fi movie. At the other end of the scale are the Head­line cross pumps, a key fea­ture of the brand’s au­tumn/win­ter 2018-19 fash­ion show. Crafted from os­trich and calf leather, with a python trim, the style’s graphic lines are high­lighted by the bold con­trast of black and white, topped with chunky gold de­tail­ing. Here, we get a be­hind the scenes look at how these shoes are made.

The Head­line pump, a key style from the au­tumn/win­ter 2018-19 col­lec­tion, is made en­tirely by hand, from the cut­ting of the leather and ce­ment­ing of in­ter­nal parts, to the assem­bly of the python-skin heel and ap­pli­ca­tion of the bold metal ac­ces­sory

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